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Want an all-purpose groupset for cyclo-cross, or gravel, or adventuring, or commuting, or pretty much anything? SRAM's Force 1 puts in a really solid performance and it's easy to recommend. It's silent running, low maintenance and pretty hard wearing. There are options now for everything from cyclo-cross to crit racing.
SRAM originally launched Force 1 as CX1, the CX denoting cyclo-cross, and it was a disc brake-specific groupset. Cyclo-cross as a genre is very much moving towards single-ring drivetrains. You don't have the mud trap of a front derailleur and the expanding size of rear cassettes means there's plenty of range for your hour of pain. Since then, though, the groupset has been added to and re-targeted at, well, everyone. There are mechanical rim brake levers for your race bike, and even wider range cassette options that work with an XD freehub to give you almost the same range as a double chainset. I've been riding Force 1 for about eight months now.
'There really couldn't be a better time to be a road cyclist. Or a backroads gravel adventurer. Or a cyclocross racer. Or a time-trial specialist,' says SRAM in its Micro Guide to 1x Drivetrains. 'The definition of 'road' is changing. And, thanks largely to our dedicated 1x drivetrain philosophy that uses superwide-range 11-speed rear cogsets, what's possible with a single front chainring is changing too. 1x drive systems for drop-bar cyclists can provide a simpler, quieter, and more secure drivetrain solution to virtually go anywhere. Not to mention an incredible range of gears to tackle an incredible range of terrain – on the bike of your choice.'
SRAM is marketing it at everyone, then. So: is it suitable for everyone?
The short answer is yes. And the long answer is yes too, but with the proviso that different bikes will need different setups, so it's not a one-size-fits-all deal. But the components are there such that you can spec your bike for what you want it to do, and you'll have an option available to you. So, what's the advantage?
The main advantages, for me, are the simplicity of operation, the quality of the shifting and the noise, or lack of it. Let's touch on that first. Good quality modern drivetrains aren't exactly noisy, but the Force 1 drivetrain is, for the most part, entirely silent. The thick-thin chainring holds the chain much more closely than a standard unit, and the roller bearing clutch in the rear mech controls the chain tension very well, such that there's never any chain slap. The deep-tooth pulleys on the jockey help too.
All those things added together mean the only noises you'll get are the clunks between gears when you're shifting up and down. The left-hand lever is basically a Force 22 lever minus all the shifting gubbins. It's functionally fine, but I did find that it wasn't the most comfortable to grip at times as the exposed edges at the back of the lever are a bit angular.
The shifting is excellent. Compared to something like Shimano Ultegra it's a more tactile experience. There's a bit more effort required per shift but the click to the next gear is very positive and the shifting between sprockets generally faultless. It's a bit noisier than a road groupset but that's mostly down to the bigger gaps in the cassette. I was running an 11-36 cassette, but now you can have as wide as 10-42 from SRAM if you have wheels with an XD freehub, and 11-40 cassettes are available from Shimano and SunRace that will be compatible.
There are three lengths of rear derailleur available for different cassettes. Our medium-cage mech tops out at 36 teeth, so if you want a bigger cassette than that you need the extra capacity of the long-cage version. There's also a short-cage mech with a maximum sprocket size of 28 teeth, designed for racing applications. All three derailleurs use the same roller bearing clutch mechanism to control chain tension. It works very well, and there's a button to allow you to lock the mech, which makes changing wheels really easy.
I ran the 11-36 cassette with a 40T chainring for most of the test period. That's a gear range of about 30in to about 98in. That low gear is small enough for pretty much anything, the equivalent of a triple chainring with a 30T inner ring, and a 27T sprocket. It's lower than you'd find on most road bikes and I specced it to be low enough for a bit of rough stuff climbing on my Kinesis Tripster ATR.
At the other end, the 98in gear is a bit of a compromise in the sense that it'll spin out on a downhill. I never found this an issue unless I was trying to keep up with friends on standard-geared road bikes who'd decided to really go after it on a descent. Realistically, if I was speccing for the road only I'd go to a 44T chainring: that would give about the same low gear as a 50/34 double with an 11-28 cassette while extending the top gear to 108in, which would let you keep up on more or less anything.
Force 1 is an option for racing now as well, with 50T, 52T and 54T chainrings meaning you'll have plenty of fast gears for crits or triathlon. The flip side in race terms is that you lose a bit of the range at the other end. The other issue is the gaps between the ratios, which are bigger than they are on the 11-25 or 11-28 cassette you'd fit with your double chainset. Whether that's an issue for you will depend on your style of riding, and how comfortable you are with a broader range of pedal cadences.
I didn't race on the road with the Force 1 components, but I did on rare occasions find myself wishing there was a sprocket between the two that were available. It's more likely to be an issue on draggy climbs, or riding into a headwind on the flat, where you want to keep a tight rein on your cadence to keep a measured effort. For general riding on the Tripster it was hardly ever a problem, and I'd be happy to live with bigger gaps in the cassette for the bigger range of an 11-40 or 10-42 cassette.
I rode long distances, 200km and more, over challenging terrain on my Force 1 setup and at practically no point during rides like that did it really feel like a compromise. Certainly I'd say that the simplicity of operation, lack of complexity and low noise easily outweighed the odd where's-the-right-gear niggle.
Is Force 1 a realistic option for racing? Yes, it is. Certainly if your game is city centre crit races, or circuit racing where you're using about four of your available 20 gears, then there's no issue switching to a single ring. The same goes for flatter triathlons. If you're doing hillier stuff then you'd need to make a call between speccing a wider cassette and living with bigger gaps between the ratios, or sacrificing either some of the high end gears, or the low end, or both.
The sacrifices are small, though: a 50T single ring with an 11-36 cassette has about 92% of the range of a 52/36 semi-compact cassette and an 11-28 cassette. On a double the gaps are between 9% and 12%. Move to a single ring and they're 9% to 15%: not much different, but that 15% jump is from 13 to 15 teeth which is in the bit of the block you'll likely be using for fast bits: that's really the only jump that's likely to jar a bit. If you go to 10-42 then the range is wider than that double setup, but there are some big gaps between ratios, up to 20%. You'd not be speccing that on a race bike.
The upside is there's no changing between chainrings at crucial moments: that's a riskier shift in terms of losing your chain, and almost always at a point in a race where things are happening. With that chainring shift you also have the attendant problem of needing to shift at the back too to keep your cadence, either one or two shifts depending on the size of your chainrings and where you are on the cassette. It's worth noting that my single-ring setup has never ever dropped the chain in eight months and thousands of miles of riding.
If you have a race bike, and maybe the budget to get a couple of chainrings or cassettes, you'd never have a problem. If you have one bike for racing and training, and no extra cash for bits to swap – or you just don't want to bother – then it's possible for it to feel like a minor compromise. I confidently predict that single-ring setups will be commonplace on the flat stages of Grand Tours in the next few years. Mostly with rim brakes though.
Outside of rarefied racing spheres there are really no issues. What you get is a simpler, quieter transmission.
One thing that I found quite different, which I wasn't really expecting, is that, mentally, using a 1x drivetrain is different to using a double or triple. There's just one run of gears. If it gets harder, you pick an easier one, and vice versa. What you can't do is give yourself a mental boost by lobbing it in the big ring at the top of a climb. Conversely, there's no moment of defeat when you have to drop down to the inner ring.
Whether that suits or not, well, it depends. I'm undecided, personally. There's something very liberating about not worrying about what ring you're in at the front, but at the same time you don't get that satisfaction of having done that climb sur la plaque. I'm not sure for me it's any better or worse, just different. If you're a very emotional, no computer, ride by the seat of your pants type then I don't expect you'd like it as much. If it's more of a numbers game to you then you might see advantages. I'm off into conjecture here, so I'll haul on the brakes.
Braking from the hydraulic levers and callipers is very good. You get bags of power and it's easy to modulate. We have the are-discs-better debate, if you want. For me, for everyday riding, they're clearly superior to rim brakes. Better and easier application of braking force, better all-conditions performance, less mess, minimal maintenance.
It's not all sweetness and light. One of the trade-offs is that disc rotors can be susceptible to dirt, and warping when they get hot under heavy braking. Both of those things can make them sing or tick against the pads, which in a hydraulic system are very close to the rotor. I found the Centerline X rotors I was using to be particularly susceptible to picking up ticks. They were noticeably more fussy than Shimano's IceTech rotors and TRP's two-piece Centerlock rotor, both of which I tried with the groupset.
Should you need to do it, bleeding the brakes requires a SRAM syringe kit. SRAM uses DOT fluid, while Shimano uses mineral oil. Neither are liquids you want on your skin, so best to glove up if you're tinkering. I bled the brakes more to say that I had than because it was necessary; it's not quite as simple as doing a Shimano setup but it's easily achievable in your shed if you have the tools. Replacing the pads is easy too, and they'll re-centre themselves; that's one of the joys of hydraulic disc brakes.
From the road.cc scales of truth and SRAM's price list, here's the build weight and cost for our setup:
Force 22 HRD shift/brake lever right, hose and calliper (387g) £253
Force 1 HRD brake lever left, hose and calliper (314g) £203
Centerline rotor 160mm x2 (206g) £72
Force 1 GXP crankset, 50T chainring (622g) £208
GXP bottom bracket (119g) £28
Force 1 mid-cage rear derailleur (272g) £168
PG1170 11-36T cassette (301g) £75
PC1170 chain (245g) £33
So that's a full RRP of £1,040 and an overall weight of 2,466g. The actual price you'll pay for the groupset isn't as much as that, but you won't find it half price like you can the likes of Shimano Ultegra, which has a similar RRP. SRAM groupsets generally aren't as heavily discounted, and disc brake stuff generally isn't either.
Weight-wise you're looking at an increase of about 270g over SRAM Force 22 GXP, with rim brakes. The chainset is lighter, as is the non-existent front mech, but the brake/shifter combo and rear mech are heavier, and you're adding on the weight of discs.
It's still a lightweight groupset, and shod with it my Kinesis is as light as it's ever been: 9kg on the nose, with pedals. That's more than a half kilo lighter than it was with SRAM's Rival HRD groupset that the Force replaced, and also lighter than the Ultegra Di2 build I had before that. If you're looking for a lightweight cyclo-cross build or something for an all-purpose bike then it's a good fit. The rim-braked groupset will be not dissimilar to the equivalent Force 22 setup: you get the savings on the front mech and the chainset, and these are offset by the heavier wide-ratio cassette and rear derailleur. Overall, it would probably be marginally lighter.
My experience of riding with Force 1 has been very positive. I like the way it works, and I like its silent operation and crisp shifting. It's never dropped the chain and barely ever missed a shift. The expanded Force 1 options, with rim brakes and bigger chainrings for race bikes, mean it's a viable option for many different types of riding now. It probably makes most sense still for a do-anything sort of bike, but expect to see it making its way into road and racing spheres too.
Really good single-ring groupset: quiet, crisp and effective, with component options for all your bikes
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road.cc test report
Make and model: SRAM Force 1
Size tested: 40 / 11-36
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
SRAM says: "Everything you need. Nothing you don't. For you, advancement means having everything you need. And nothing you don't. This is SRAM Force 1 in a nimble nutshell. Innovative, responsive, race ready. Last year's game-changing upgrade for cyclocross has expanded to triathlon, criterium, and other 700c disciplines, paved and beyond pavement. With a host of drivetrain options, all featuring SRAM 1x™ technologies, and the broadest assortment of braking options available today, SRAM Force 1 is quietly simplifying the experience."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
SRAM Force® HRD Shift-Brake Control
SRAM Road's HydroR hydraulic braking platform provides better speed modulation and braking performance in all conditions.
All new design inside and out
Revised ergonomics for better finger wrap and a revised shifter paddle for improved finger clearance
Individual Reach Adjust
Carbon brake levers/ aluminum shift levers
Low hand force required
Fully sealed system for no contamination
Easy bleed access
Use this 11-speed shifter for both SRAM Road 1x and 2x drivetrains
Optimized stopping power and modulation for cyclocross
18mm front/ 18mm rear pistons
Specific caliper and piston ratio
160 or 140 Centerline rotors sold separately
Forged aluminum disc caliper with steel-backed organic pads and stainless hardware
Now available to fit flat mount frames and forks
SRAM Force® 1 Rear Derailleur
The SRAM Force® 1 Rear Derailleur adopts all the technologies of SRAM 1x MTB to provide the fastest, quietest 1x11 shifting available. SRAM's unique clutch system eliminates chain slack, providing for smoother, quieter, and more secure chain travel.
A dedicated 1x rear derailleur
Exact Actuation™ for fast and accurate shifts using SRAM's 1:1 actuation ratio (shifter cable travel: derailleur movement). 10 and 11-speed compatible
X-SYNC™ pulley features a 12-tooth design that helps control the chain's lateral movement
X-HORIZON™ 'straight parallelogram' design limits all movement to the horizontal axis, which makes ghost shifting impossible while also reducing shift force
ROLLER BEARING CLUTCH™'s one-way roller clutch controls chain tension for consistent shifting
CAGE LOCK™ technology makes for fast wheel changes or chain installation
Available in Short: 11-26 through 11-28 / Medium: 11-26 through 11-36 / Long 11-32 through 10-42 cage Lengths
SRAM Force® 1 Crankset
The SRAM Force® 1 crankset brings to cyclocross a game-changing upgrade in performance and reliability by combining the durability, simplicity, and efficiency of SRAM's Force 22 road combined with our MTB 1x technology, X-SYNC™.
SRAM X-SYNC™ wide-tooth, narrow-tooth chainring technology provides maximum chain control, crucial in cyclocross
Unidirectional carbon in crank arm matched to a forged alloy spider for lightweight and durability
Chainrings available in (110 BCD) 38, 40, 42, 44, 46, 48, 50, (130BCD) 52 and 54 teeth to conquer every course from sand dunes to gravel-road assaults
Single-ring drivetrain simplifies functionality
Weight 679g-24mm, 172.5mm, 50T, no BB
Very well made and finished.
Excellent. Near-silent operation, crisp shifts, good braking.
Wearing very well.
Heavier than the Force rim-brake road groupset but good for a disc setup.
Levers are good, although the space behind the left lever could do with some kind of plug.
Good value for money.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Really well: good performance for all kinds of riding.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Rotors a bit fiddly, left lever has uncomfortable sides at the rear.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
Great performance and good value, just a few minor niggles.
About the tester
I usually ride: whatever I'm testing... My best bike is: Kinesis Tripster ATR, Kinesis Aithein
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mountain biking, Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling, track
Dave is a founding father of road.cc, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.